whose idea is it?

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whose idea is it?

Postby ADN » Fri Jun 30, 2017 5:21 am

I am working as a postdoc under a new PI in a research institute.

Several weeks ago, i attended a seminar. I found the talk is quite interesting, and something mentioned might be applied to solve some problems that we are facing currently. So, I told my PI (he didn't attend the talk) about the idea of applying/modifying/advancing this part to our own studies. He didn't show any interests, and didn't say anything. Few days ago, he told me he is writing a grant about the exact thing i told him, and asked me to give him some preliminary data to show in the grant proposal (i did some similar experiment before for another PI in this institute when i was doing my PhD).

i am not very happy about this situation. This is a topic that i am interested in, and i told him this idea. When he joined our institute (January, 2017), I talked to him that i'd like to write my own grant application, but he was not very supportive. He thinks i should just do experiment in the lab and generate data for him coz he is new here and he needs to have results to secure his position.

Now he is writing this grant. I haven't provided him the data he asked for (but i am preparing). What can i do about it? i want to be involved in this project (if he gets the money), but now i have my own project to do. how can this work?

i am a fresh postdoc and i have no experience in this kind of things. Please give me some suggestions? thanks!
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Re: whose idea is it?

Postby Ana » Wed Jul 05, 2017 7:39 am

Hi ADN, welcome to the forum.

First of all, this is a professional forum so please avoid language like “coz”.

As a fresh postdoc it is normal that your PI doesn’t want you to write grants yet but to focus in the lab. It will also be normal that your project changes as you progress forward, and that you participate in multiple projects in parallel sometimes taking a more central role and other times as some minor contributor.

What you need is some clarity about your professional development during the years that you plan to be at the lab. You seem to not have discuss this with your PI with enough clarity. How longs you will stay, what projects you will be part of (some known, some future and still unknown), in which ones you could take some leadership role, in which projects after some years you can write part of the grant or apply as a (co)PI if the funding allows it….

Make also sure you discuss what you want to do after your postdoc, what you will need to get from your training in order to get you there and see how supportive your PI is.

This is important because there are many different types of aspirations and support level, and you should really have clarified this before you started to prevent the expectations mismatch that you are facing right now.

Example A: a postdoc wants to do a long postdoc of about 5 years to then apply to become a PI at a big research university. That postdoc will need to have multiple publications and will need to get involved in some project towards the middle of those years that she can take with her to her future lab and that will open many directions. For example some metabolomics study, gene-hunting study… something that will give her enough material for her first grants and students as a PI. She will also need to get some of the funding that is available for more senior postdocs as PIs, because it is so competitive today to get a tenure-track role that she will need as much track record as she can.

Example B: a postdoc likes to work at the lab but is not interested in moving across the country and spend all his time writing grants as a future PI. He thinks he will want to start a family and wants to make sure he can keep some job at the local university(ies). He agrees with his PI that he will focus on mastering some technology platform (confocal, zebrafish…) so that he can be highly employable at the university and neighbouring centres in a facility manager or research staff position. What he does in the lab has nothing to do with the postdoc from example A.

Example C: a postdoc wants to go to industry and thinks she will do better transferring after she has an academic postdoc, so she explains this to her potential PIs when she interviews. The postdoc and her PI agree that she will work on a project that is highly relevant to industry and get a couple of good publications, but she won’t get too involved in writing grants or starting projects that she cannot take with her (since she will be working on company programs, not starting her own lab after leaving). PI will support her in her networking needs to make sure she can land an industry job after a couple of years.

Each of those postdocs has different career needs. There are other options beyond these 3, as you can imagine, and I don’t know which one is the closest to you. More importantly: I don’t know who of these your PI thinks you are. And if you have not had that conversation with him you could be in a very bad position, because he might not support you and you will waste your time.

You also need to understand where your PI is in his careers and his current needs and aspirations.

Without knowing all that my best advice is:

1) Support your PI. Get that data for him.

2) Ask for some time to have a conversation on what you want your postdoc training to prepare you for, what that will mean in terms of projects and leadership in those projects or grant writing, and how he will support you with that.

You support him and he supports you, that’s how it works. But you two definitely need to talk.

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Re: whose idea is it?

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed Jul 05, 2017 10:04 am

Thanks Ana for the reminder that we do not use language like "i" and "coz" on this forum. It's so easy to get caught up in "texting language" but in the real world, communication like this is enough to get you put out of consideration on a job application.

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“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.”- Alain de Botton
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Re: whose idea is it?

Postby Dick Woodward » Thu Jul 06, 2017 9:58 am


Ana has given you excellent advice. You should absolutely communicate with your PI so that your post-doc aligns with your future plans.

A word to others who may be reading this - when interviewing for your post-doc, it might be well to sound out the potential PI's attitudes to your career plans. If you are aiming toward industry, for example, make certain that you choose a PI who at least understands your goals, and preferably one who has the connections to help you achieve them. Beware of the PI who feels that the only appropriate career path is academia - this could be a recipe for disaster.

Good luck,

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